IndieWire’s bi-weekly feature “Critical Consensus” asks EW’s Owen Gleiberman and Elle magazine’s Karen Durbin about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the culture of Top 10 lists. It’s a great discussion, worth your time to read to to bottom. (We’ll let this post serve as an open thread to share your own reactions to TGWTDT, for those who see it today.) Here’s Gleiberman comparing Fincher’s adaptation to the original, and floating a “feminist conspiracy theory.”
ERIC KOHN: Owen, you’ve awarded Fincher’s movie an “A” in your review, while calling the previous version “dutifully effective” but inferior. What makes Fincher’s version so much better?
OWEN GLEIBERMAN: There’s been a sort of raging pre-release debate, most of it online, about the Swedish version vs. the Fincher remake. And to me, at least, it’s kind of funny that the whole discussion is trapped in a paradigm—the original was “pure and artistic,” the Hollywood version is “unnecessary”—that seems almost exactly the opposite of what’s true. The Swedish film was, of course, very faithful to the book, and it got the job done (I enjoyed it a lot). But come on, people—it’s such a prosaic and rather functional piece of filmmaking. And it will probably be seen, at least in the United States, by about one-thirtieth the number of people who see Fincher’s version. If you really look at it, there’s a kind of indie-rock-snob, I saw it first and I’m cool mystique embedded in the over-lionizing of the Swedish version. As a movie, it lacks mood, style, visual poetry and danger.
“Is ‘Dragon Tattoo’ too violent and dark? Twenty years after ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ swept the Academy Awards, it would be hard to make that case.” — Owen Gleiberman
Fincher’s version has all those things, as well as a doom-laden grandeur that makes Lisbeth, in context, seem a far more momentous character. Fincher isn’t just capturing the literal reality of the book — the story, page for page — he’s playing off the whole culture-shifting fact of its extraordinary popularity. His film understands in its bones that Lisbeth the victim/delinquent/wallflower/goth sociopath is a character who projects and acts out, in a kind of mythological way, so many of the contradictory impulses of young women in the world today. Their anger, their power, their image consciousness, their embattled sensitivity to victimization, all mingled with a sense of triumph. I assume it’s that resonance, Karen, that you were referring to when you mentioned the film’s “implications that you talk about afterward.”
But now that I’ve said that, let me lay out what is basically my version of a feminist conspiracy theory. Karen, you wondered if the Academy would recognize Rooney Mara’s incredible performance and obviously the jury is out on that. But for the moment, at least, the critical-publicity-awards-industrial complex appears to have decreed that “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” isn’t an “awards film.” And frankly, I’m really suspect about why that is. Is the movie, as some have claimed, too violent and dark? Twenty years after “The Silence of the Lambs” swept the Academy Awards, it would be hard to make that case. (If anything, the culture is much, much edgier now.) But is “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” too much of a flashy-disreputable pop genre film? I don’t know—is it really any more of a flashy-disreputable pop genre film than, say, “District 9”? Given Fincher’s status as a new-style Hollywood classicist, I would argue that the slightly patronizing, sorry-we’re-not-buying response that “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” has provoked so far on the awards-chatter circuit may, more than anything, have to do with an unacknowledged, deep-down lack of ease that a lot of people—especially men—feel with granting full artistic credibility to a story driven by a female character who is simultaneously as powerful and as extravagantly, sordidly out there as Lisbeth Salander.